Part five, Project 2 Exercise 5.2

Part five, Project 2 Exercise 5.2

Choose a viewpoint, perhaps looking out of your window or from a café in the central
square, and write down everything you can see. No matter how boring it seems or how
detailed, just write it down. Spend at least an hour on this exercise.

Here are some areas to consider:
• Can you transform this into a photography version?
• Would you stay in the same place or get in close to the things you listed?
• Would you choose to use your camera phone in order to be discreet or would you get
your tripod out?
• Would it be better in black and white or colour?
• Would you include your list with the final images?
You may choose to turn this into a photography project if it interests you.

To perform this Exercise I sat at a table outside a cafe on a centre city street. For about an hour I noted down in a notebook what I saw.

I had read beforehand Georges Perec’s ‘An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris’ (Perec, 1975) but this did not prepare me fully for the difficulty of the task: I had not appreciated that there would be so much to record, so much in fact that it was impossible to write it down fast enough. This means that I was forced at many times to edit, that is, to record some things knowing that others would go un-noted. This process of choosing what to include is reminiscent of the act of taking a photograph – what to include within the frame given the almost infinite possibilities. So it was with this Exercise, five minutes could have been spend recording the visual details of some of the individuals who stopped in front of me as I sat but then so much else that was passing would have gone un-noted.

Can you transform this into a photography version?

Yes, but as mentioned above the dilemma is what to choose to include. One possibility is if I included only the visually pleasing, or what provided a good composition, but this would not even come close to photographing everything that is present or happening. Perhaps setting up a camera on a tripod or on a table top and taking a time-lapse series of photographs would ensure that nothing was missed. But this is not the way people look at anything, it is necessary to discriminate in order to comprehend. Any photography version of the list would involve editing at the time of shooting (i.e. what to photography) and then again at the time of reviewing all the photographs that had been taken in order to tell a particular story or, by means of removing the ‘noise’ of other images, to reveal what I think has been submerged or hidden.

Would you stay in the same place or get in close to the things you listed?

It would depend on what I wanted to say with the final set of photographs. Broadly, to stay in the same place will reveal literally the big picture, an overview of the scene. Getting in close to the detail could also do this but it would be necessary that the details were indicative of a larger situation. For example: photographing a wounded and frightened child can show the plight of hundreds of refugees caught up in a particular crisis; photographing the expensive jewellery and cloths worn by an individual can indicated the type of person to be found in a whole district or street.

Would you choose to use your camera phone in order to be discreet or would you get your tripod out?

Using a tripod gives people the choice as to whether or not they wish to be photographed, and this inevitably profoundly changes what appears in the photographs. The use of the discreet camera phone gives greater freedom to photograph – the scene is captured ‘as is’ without the changes that the known presence of a photographer would bring. If I wished to place the emphasis on portraiture I would likely use a tripod, whereas use of the camera phone would yield photographs of people in situations in which they were unaware that they were being photographed. Clearly the two approached result in two very different types of photographs, which could tell similar or very different stories.

Would it be better in black and white or colour?

Black-and-white abstracts the scene by enhancing the weight of form and contrast in the image, something that has been exploited successfully in street photography. Therefore if I choose to photograph discreetly I would be more likely to convert the images to black-and-while. Portraiture would likely be suited to colour, however, black-and-white could lend an element of social documentary to the portraits.

Would you include your list with the final images?

Perhaps, depending on the audience for the images. The list is exhaustive and contains much that (inevitably) is not photographed. The list cannot be produced simultaneously with the photographs; the scene and viewpoint may be the same but there must be an interval of time between completing the list and making the images – much detail will change, for example there may be people present at both the list-making and photographing events but they will not be the same people, they may be very different if for instance the scene was the same but the time of day differed.

A possibility is to visit the same scene and decide to make one or two photograph of somewhere within a 180 degree arc of my position at say five minute intervals which would yield twelve images over the course of an hour. If the list was provided alongside the twelve photographs it would have the effect perhaps of bringing to the viewer’s mind all that was not photographed rather than what was (as might be the case if the photographs were shown without the list).

When thinking about a photography project, as in answering the Exercise questions above, it is tempting to be definite and prescriptive about the outcome. It is worth remembering however that when faced with a scene or a situation to be photographed (or to be written about) :

A person does not process things as “a narration, a report”, lining up observations and interpretations like two sides of a zipper. Instead you absorb impressions, feelings, and sensations. Maybe you can spot a pattern, maybe not; maybe you only recognise things much later. As it is, what you see on the face of things may or may not tell you much about what it means – the same way you can be hypnotised by the play of light and shadow on a pool of water without ever knowing how cold or salty it may be (Jasanoff, 2017:147).


Jasanoff, M., 2017. The Dawn Watch. Joseph Conrad in a Global World. London: Harper Collins

Perec, G., 1975. An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 01 18]

My list made at a particular place (see above)

  • Light metal railing separating café table and chairs area from street
  • The ground of the seating area is covered with large paving slabs – they look old
  • The table and chairs are wrought iron
  • A tram passes going into the city
  • A bus stop on the street immediately outside the café; the pole has a number of panels on it giving times of buses
  • A young man stops the bus stop, dressed in dark cloths, no hat.
  • Bus number 145 pulls up at the bus stop, passengers alight quickly and waiting man steps on. This action is too quick to write down in any detail. The bus pulls away.
  • Immediately a white delivery van stops in bus-stop space – logo CWS/boco on side; CWS in red rest in blue colours.
  • Hazard lights begin to flash on van and driver walks to path-side of van and opens the door; driver is a man dressed in dark cloths with red flashing inserts in jacket
  • Tram passes on far side of street – going out of the city
  • Van driver removes packages from van, closes door and walks away
  • Pedestrians pass, all wearing cloths suitable for cold day – lots of ‘puffer’-type jackets, some with hoods, some without, others with fur trimmed hoods. No time to write down full descriptions when many pass at once
  • Van driver returns to van and drives off
  • Man on red coloured bicycle cycles down street towards city, cycles between tram tracks
  • Young woman with red coat and small yellow back pack stops walking suddenly to attend to something on her phone screen
  • Three men, two well wrapped up against the cold, the other with open coat and heavy scarf swinging
  • A taxi passes
  • A red double-decker sightseeing bus passes
  • A taxi and bus number 46A passes
  • Woman in red woollen hat with white wires of earphones emerging from beneath it
  • Woman in bright yellow jacket with shoulder bag
  • Tram going to city
  • A couple, both man and woman in peaked caps
  • A man smoking while walking
  • A taxi with yellow livery
  • A lot of traffic suddenly, cars, taxi, white van, green van
  • Woman and child holding hands
  • Man wearing woollen hat slows passing coffee shop, looks in, and passes on
  • Blue coloured Aircoach passes – ‘Travel in Luxury’ on side
  • Taxi stops outside the coffee shop
  • Black van with ‘Guinness quality team’ on side, slows and the nmoves off
  • Figure in dark green long coat, hood up, small black back pack – man or woman?
  • Man passes to enter coffee shop
  • Tram passes going into city – many passengers looking down at phone screens
  • Bus number 37
  • Young woman with ear phones; old woman pulling empty (deflated) shopping trolley bag
  • Taxi moves off with new fare, man
  • A couple, talking, pass to enter coffee shop
  • White van, ‘Vernon Catering’ passes
  • Woman in white coat passes to enter coffee shop
  • Green hop-on, hop-off, double-decker bus
  • Man with red woollen hat
  • Tram going out of city—not very full
  • Woman waits at bus stop – light pink jacket with hood, large shoulder hand bag
  • Two men and a woman talking animatedly
  • Number 145 bus
  • Old man, green woollen cap, walking stick
  • Mother and daughter, daughter with ‘top knot’ hair style
  • Four young women, students, talking animatedly pass to enter coffee shop
  • Taxi stops outside
  • Across the road man carries small folded ladder
  • Taxi fare leaves taxi, moment later another man sits in and taxi moves off
  • Number 78 bus arrives, passengers alight but woman in pink jacket remains
  • Young man walking with folding-type bike, wearing yellow bicycle helmet
  • Number 39 bus arrives, lady in pink jacket leaves on it
  • Number 61 bus passes
  • Woman with hood
  • Young woman talking on phone, pulling shopping trolley bag
  • Tram going out of city
  • Fast walking young man wearing headphones over yellow woollen cap
  • Man on phone carrying green bag with shop logo
  • Tram going into city
  • Man in high viz. jacket, carrying parcel
  • Man with shoulder bag
  • Number 46A bus
  • Number 38A bus
  • Two men, a woman in mauve coloured coat
  • Number 11 bus stops and passengers alight
  • Elderly man with crutch waits at bus stop; wears mustard coloured jacket with hood down, grey hair, black trousers
  • Red double-decker sight-seeing bus
  • Man with short rolled umbrella carried beneath his arm crosses road
  • A postman with high viz. jacket with company logo cycles past, post bag held in front
  • Couple holding hands, woman wears stylish black beret
  • Young woman waits with man with crutch; she stands apart from man and constantly looks at her phone screen – wears sneakers and carries large shoulder handbag
  • Green hop-on hop-off bus
  • Man passes leaving coffee shop
  • Couple (not young) holding hands, man wears black woollen hat, she carries small white bag from some shop
  • Tram going out of city
  • Man with bright red jacket with ‘City Tours’ company logo on back
  • Young woman with red ‘bobble’ hat
  • Tram going into city
  • Young woman wearing matching jacket and scarf – light pink
  • Number 39A bus stops and man with crutch and young woman get on; bus leaves
  • Old man with walking stick enters coffee shop seating area and stands, waiting
  • Bus showing ‘Sorry, not in service’ passes
  • Number 46A bus passes
  • Number 37 bus passes
  • Woman member of coffee shop staff comes out talking on phone and begins at the same time to collect some wind-blown rubbish that has collected in the seating area
  • Man with laptop case on shoulder passes, smoking
  • An blue Aircoach passes – ‘Travel in Luxury’
  • Woman with long white hair, wearing white coat crosses from other side of street
  • Fire engine ‘Dublin Fire Brigade’ passes, no speed or flashing lights
  • Van stops – ‘clean bed for 250,000 patients every day’ on side

The list runs to several more pages of hand written notes


Part five, Project 2 Reflection Point

Part five, Project 2 Reflection Point

How often do you see people walking and reading their texts or on the train and reading their tablet rather than enjoying the view? What are we missing when we do that?

The answer to the first question is: very often. What is missed is the interaction with their immediate surroundings and environment including the interaction with other people (which may include at a minimum simply noticing their presence). People who look at screens instead of their surroundings are distracted, diverted from seeing, even listening – experiencing — what is around them. By consistently choosing the screen rather than the surrounding world they are making a decision about what matters. And it has been argued that for most people the decision to choose the screen has been in fact made for them. Consider the experience of this air passenger writing in 2015 and looking forward to a relatively digital device-free few hours:

But on the flight to Washington I noticed that the forces of distraction are winning the war in the air just as they are on the ground. There was a large selection of films, before which adverts were shown. Marketing slogans were written on the teacups: “Twinings – get you back to you”. Someone in front of me was playing Candy Crush, a game to which I had a short but debilitating addiction in 2013. Not only are you now allowed to use your electronic devices in the air, you can charge them, too. When the internet is available on international flights, as it is on some local routes, the game will truly be up (Cumming, 2015).

Another traveller says that the only quiet, distraction-free place in the airport is the business-class lounge: ‘If you’re in that lounge you can use the time to think creative, playful thoughts …’ (Crawford cited by Cumming, 2015). Howard Jacobson links this idea of ‘playful thoughts’ to the making of art, saying of the effect of digital distractions: ‘We have lost sight of the necessity of “play”. Diversion, not in the sense of being distracted from what matters, but in the sense of being distracted from what doesn’t …’ (Jacobson, 2015).

This idea of the screens as a distraction from what does not matter is an interesting one. Asking someone who is on, say, a train journey to put away their tablet and simply experience their surroundings does not mean that they then seek significance in every detail in a Sherlock Holmsian manner. The point is that there is a world of difference — a different way of being in the world — between looking at a screen and simply looking:

We increasingly encounter the world through these representations [on a screen] that are addressed to us, often with manipulative intent … These experiences are so exquisitely attuned to our appetites that they can swamp your ordinary way of being in the world. Just as food engineers have figured out how to make food hyper-palatable by manipulating fat, salt and sugar, similarly the media has become expert at making irresistible mental stimuli (Crawford cited in Cumming, 2015).

To Jacobson ‘play’ is the means whereby ‘we lose ourselves in the act of creation, and find what we had no idea we were looking for’ (Jacobson, 2015), and that: ‘what draws people to art and artists is a desire to enjoy the propinquity of play. For it is the very freedom of the imagination. And what else were we born to do, but imagine freely?’ (Jacobson, 2015). It strikes me that screens with their content designed with ‘manipulative intent’ (above) to the point where addiction can occur are the antithesis of the essentially human ‘freedom of the imagination’ vital for creativity.

It is this freedom of the imagination that photographer Robert Harding Pittman is referring to when he says:

I love looking. I love light, especially the light from the sun. Whenever I sit on a bus, train, bike, car or plane I take great pleasure in looking out the window and seeing the landscape pass by. I very much enjoy the process of searching for places and objects to photograph. When I have a camera in hand it intensifies my action of looking, helping me to focus and organize what I see in front of me. It helps me be more present and even if I were to not have film in my camera (or a memory card), the act of looking and focusing on something through my viewfinder helps me remember and connect more intimately with the places I visit. The best photographs come when everything comes together in one instant – the light, the place, me with my camera and some kind of magic (Pittman cited by Boothroyd, 2015).


Cumming, E., 2015. ‘Matthew Crawford: ‘Distraction is a kind of obesity of the mind’’. In: The Observer [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 01 2018]

Jacobson, H., 2015. ‘Howard Jacobson: artistic creation frees us from ‘right thinking’’. In: The Observer [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 01 2018]

Boothroyd, S., (2015) ‘Robert Harding Pittman’ In: Photoparley [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 01 2018]

Part five, Project 1 Exercise 5.1

Part five, Project 1 Exercise 5.1

Create a set of still-life pictures showing traces of life without using people. You could do this with your camera phone to reflect the vernacular and transient nature of these moments or you could choose to use high-quality imagery to give these moments gravitas, like Nigel Shafran. Your technical decisions should back up your ideas, so write a short reflective commentary detailing these decisions and the reasons for them.

Picture 1 (Click to enlarge)

This photograph was taken by available light, hand held, 35mm digital SLR.

Picture 2 (Click to enlarge)

A tripod was use to take this photograph as the light was dim — for the image to succeed there had to be a large difference between the light inside and that outside the door. Image contrast was adjusted in digital post-processing in in order to heighten the  sense of someone standing outside the door, as indicated by the two dark breaks in the continuous strip of under-door light.

Picture 3 (Click to enlarge)

Main Image: In digital post-processing the image contrast was adjusted  and the image, originally shot in colour (see ‘Unprocessed’above), was converted into black-and-white. This was an attempt to give a crime scene aesthetic to the picture reminiscent of those taken by for example Weegee.

Picture 4, 5 and 6 (Click to enlarge)

An ashtray (left; traces of life?) and cup on a table situated outside coffee shops (for smokers) — 35 mm digital SLR

Picture 7, 8 and 9 (Click to enlarge)

Street scenes with objects — Picture 8 was converted to black-and-white to make the image more poignant.  35 mm digital SLR

Picture 10 and 11 (Click to enlarge)

Picture 10 is straightforward but Picture 11 is less so. Taken of a sleeping-blanked left by someone who had slept rough in part of a city church. The red gives strong contrast with the stone, it is ‘shocking’ and reminiscent of blood, an association heightened by the lock and chain. 35 mm digital SLR

Part five, Project 1 Research point 2 (ii)

Part five, Project 1 Research point 2 (ii)

Although there is much overlap between the everyday and still-life nevertheless it can be considered as a separate example of a type of photography that avoids the use of the human figure. The first still-life photograph ‘La table servie’ (‘The Set Table’) was taken by Nicéphore Niépce in about 1832 (The Nicéphore Niépce House Museum, s.d), (see fig.1.).

Paul Strand (b. 1890) was among those photographers who eschewed the Pictorial movement in favour of Modernism:

Strand experimented with bowls, bottles, and fruit in an attempt to discover the nature of photographic abstraction through shape and form. In ‘Pears and Bowls’ [see fig. 2.], the somewhat disorienting arrangement of bowls that Strand created on the porch of his Connecticut home calls to mind the tension found in still lifes by the painter Paul Cezanne (Martineau, 2010: 10).

Between the first and second World Wars the New Objectivity movement emerged whereby:

photographers sought sharpness, precision and focus not only because the new electrical lamps permitted it, but also because of the new-found virtues in photography as photography. Photography and photographers achieved self-confidence in this period: a new vision for the new century had been found in ‘photographic objectivity’. Photography could create objects from the way it represented things (Bate, 2009: 123).

An example of such work is Albert Renger-Patzsch’s (b. 1897) ‘Flatirons for Shoe Manufacturer’ (Renger-Patzsch, 1926) (see fig.3.); other examples in Coke (1982). In this era also:

abstraction became the holy grail of modern art. It was pursued with feverish intent by all kinds of creative types in Europe, Russia and elsewhere, responding to assorted spurs: Cubism and other deviations from old fashioned realism, the beautiful whiteness of the blank page, communion with nature, spiritual aspirations, modern machines and everyday noise. Painters, sculptors, poets, composers, photographers, filmmakers and choreographers alike ventured into this new territory, struggling to sever Western art’s age-old link with legible images, narrative logic, harmonic structure and rhyme. It was a thrilling, terrifying process … (Smith, 2012).

Examples from this era include Alfred Ehrhardt (b. 1901) – see fig. 10.  The many photographers who embraced abstraction include Man Ray (b. 1890), László Moholy-Nagy (b. 1895), Irving Penn (b. 1917) (see fig. 6.); examples of contemporary practitioners employing abstraction are Etienne Courtois (FotoRoom, s.d) and Harley Weir e.g. ‘Paintings’ (Weir, 2017); an overview is found in Charlotte Cotton’s ‘Photography is Magic’ (Cotton, 2015)

The post-World War II period saw still-life work by Walker Evans – for example his photographs of tools for ‘Fortune’ magazine (see fig. 4.). Also the studio still-lifes by Josef Sudek (b. 1896) (Sudek, 2008) – see fig. 5. ‘One of the most significant figures in still-life photography during the second half of the twentieth century was Irving Penn [b.1917]’ (Martineau, 2010: 13) – see fig. 6.

A contemporary still-life artist is Laura Letinsky (b. 1962); the photograph shown in Figure 7 is:

part of a larger series of still-life compositions depicting cloth-covered tables containing the remnants of meals. In this instance, we see crumbs, fruit, fallen blossoms, and a carafe of water. Of this series, the artist wrote, “I am exploring the formal relationships between ripeness and decay, delicacy and awkwardness, control and haphazardness, waste and plentitude, pleasure and sustenance. I wish to engage the photographer’s transformative qualities, changing what is typically overlooked into something beautiful” (Martineau, 2010: 13).

Many photographers: ‘approach their still-life subjects as simple, geometric solids (cubes, cones, spheres). Some have practiced with little more than a set of wooden or paper forms and a single light source’ (Prakel, 2012: 158). Such compositions are not evident in the still-lifes of Maria Cosindas (b. 1923), in which the:

inscrutabilities layered on one another to arrive at a startling lucidity of the kind that might be experienced by someone whose tangled dreams, regardless of their wildness or relentlessness, give way to a pure vision of wakefulness, though not the uninflected wakefulness of one who rises in early morning to a hot and innocent white light but rather the shadowed knowingness of one who has slept all day and awakes to the infinitesimally graded colours of a deepening evening, a moodiness recognizable to any viewer of Cosindas’s photographs [see fig. 8. and 9.]… (Cole, 2017).

Another contemporary example of still-life photography is ‘Morandi’s Objects’ by Joel Meyerowitz (Meyerowitz, 2016) a work based entirely on the original still-life painting of Giorgio Morandi (1890 – 1964).

My own practice

Photography that avoids the human figure can include the categories of landscape, photographs of everyday objects (‘the everyday’), still-life, and the abstract. This list is not exhaustive and there can be much overlap. However, the area that interests me most falls within  ‘the everyday’.

In general there has been: ‘a dramatic rise in an art of the everyday’ (Brennan, s.d):

Amid the hype and glitz that characterizes much of today’s art world, some prefer to keep things simple. In contrast to the big-budget art productions of yesteryear, it’s a trend that relies on the humblest materials to make an artistic point. An ‘Arte Povera’ for the 21st century which, at its most radical, demands entirely new expectations of the viewing audience (Brennan, s.d).

This rise of the everyday in contemporary art: ‘is generally understood in terms of a desire to bring these uneventful and overlooked aspects of lived experience into visibility (Johnstone, 2008: 12). For some an exploration of the everyday:

leads to a recognition of the dignity of ordinary behaviour, or the act of stating simply, ‘here is value.’ For others, it may result in the unveiling of the ‘accidentally miraculous’, or the desire to make art with unassuming ease of the amateur photographer. For others still, an art that focuses on the everyday might construct ‘a vaguely ethnographic aesthetic’, or be nothing more than the record of simply venturing out and happening across something interesting. Elsewhere, the everyday sparks a distrust of the heroic and the spectacular; its oppositional and dissident connotations are foregrounded as it is deployed in a confrontation with the ‘bureaucracy of controlled consumption’. From another position, the interest in the everyday signals a loss of guilt before popular culture and its pleasures, while elsewhere again, the investigation of everydayness asks us to consider the deceptively simple question: What happens when nothing happens? (Johnstone, 2008: 12).

This list of aspects of the everyday by Johnstone (above) is by no means exhaustive. An attempt at a more generalised description of the everyday is cited by David Campany:

Whatever its other aspects, the everyday has this essential trait: it allows no hold. It escapes. It belongs to insignificance; the insignificant being what is without truth, without reality, and without secret, but also perhaps, the site of all possible signification. The everyday escapes. In this consists its strangeness – the familiar showing itself (but already dispersing) in the guise of the astonishing. It is the unperceived, first in the sense that we have always looked past it; nor can we introduce it into a whole or ‘review’ it, that is to say, enclose it within a panoramic vision; for, by another trait, the everyday is what we never see for a first time but can only see again, having always already seen it by an illusion that is constitutive of the everyday (Maurice Blanchot cited in Campany, 2015: 25).

What these two quotations above show is the paradox that can be at the heart of the everyday: – ‘what happens when nothing happens?’ or ‘It belongs to insignificance … but also perhaps, the site of all possible signification’ (above). This sense of paradox is captured in Stephen Shore’s work, in particular ‘Uncommon Places’ (Shore, 2004). It has been said that these photographs  de-familiarise subjects we might be habituated to — freshly served breakfast in a diner, an advertising billboard, a garage forecourt. However, Shore in the section of his book ‘The Nature of Photographs’ entitled ‘The Mental Level’ (Shore, 2007: 97 – 116) shows the inadequacy of any such straightforward interpretations. This section with its example photographs  provides much food for thought.

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

Figure 3.

Figure 4.

Figure 5.

Figure 6.

Figure 7.

Figure 8.

Figure 9.


Figure 10.


Bates, D., 2009. Photography. The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury.

Brennan, M., s.d., Making the mundane marvellous. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 01 2018]

Campany, D., 2015. a Handful of Dust. From the Cosmic to the Domestic. London: Mack

Coke, Van Deren., 1982. Avant-Garde Photography in Germany 1919 – 1939. New York: Pantheon Books

Cole, T., 2017. ‘Still Lives That Won’t Hold Still’. In The New York Times [online] Available at: [Accessed 09 01 2018]

Cotton, C., 2015. Photography is Magic. New York: Aperture

FotoRoom, s.d., The ‘Problematic’ Art of Etienne Courtois. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 01 2018]

Johnstone, S., 2008. The Everyday. Documents of Contemporary Art. London: Whitechapel Gallery/ MIT Press

Martineau, P., 2010. Still Life in Photography. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum

Meyerowitz, J., 2016. Morandi’s Objects. Bologna: Damiani

Präkel, D., 2012. Basics Photography 01: Composition. 2nd ed. Lausanne: AVA Publishing.

Shore, S., 2004. Uncommon Places. London: Thames & Hudson

Shore, S., 2007. The Nature of Photographs. London: Phaidon

Smith, R., 2012. ‘When the Future Became Now’ In: The New York Times [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 01 2018]

Sudek, J., 2008. Josef Sudek: Still Lifes. Prague: Torst

The Nicéphore Niépce House Museum, s.d. Reconstruction of “La table servie” [online] Available at: [Accessed 09 01 2018]

Weir, H., 2017. ‘Paintings’ In: Hotshoe issue 200, 48 – 63


Cosindas, M., 1976. Memories II. [online] Available at: [Accessed 09 01 2018]

Cosindas, M., 1996. Masks, Boston. [online] Available at: [Accessed 09 01 2018]

Evans, W., 1955 from ‘Beauties of the Common Tool’.  Fortune, July 1955 [online] Available at:×1327.jpeg?w=1010&q=55&auto=format&usm=12&fit=max&s=90f8879d987018c6a8172b72577290c7 [Accessed 09 01 2018]

Niépce, N., ~1832. A set table (still life) [physautotype] [online] Available at: [Accessed 09 01 2018]

Irving P., 1985. Still Life with Triangle and Eraser. [online] Available at:!800,800/0/default.jpg [Accessed 09 01 2018]

Letinsky, L., 1998.  Untitled #43, from the series Hardly More Than Ever [online] Available at: [Accessed 09 01 2018]

Renger-Patzsch, A., 1926. Flatirons for Shoe Manufacturer. [online] Available at: [Accessed 09 01 2018]

Strand, P., 1916. Pears and Bowls. [online] Available at: [Accessed 09 01 2018]

Sudek, J., 1941 – 1954) from The Window of my Studio. [online] Available at: [Accessed 09 01 2018]

Part five, Project 1 Research point 2 (i)

Part five, Project 1 Research point 2 (i)

As you’ve seen, there are many examples of photography that avoid the use of the human figure in order to communicate truths and stories about humanity. Do your own research into areas you’ve been inspired by in this project; delve deeper into the areas that interest you. Continue to think about how this might inform your own practice. 

An area I have been inspired by is what is often referred to as ‘the everyday’ – ‘the camera becomes a means of slowing down our relation to objects. There is little drama or sensation … ‘ (Durden, 2014: 370). Nigel Shafran’s (b. 1964) domestic photographs: ‘taken amidst the more benign clutter of his own home’ (Lowry, 2009: 81-95; see fig. 1.) are perhaps exemplary. These and other photographs of the everyday by practitioners such as Anna Fox (b. 1961; Fox, 2000) or Keith Arnatt (b. 1930; Arnatt, 2013) use the camera as ‘an index of life, of what is close and personal’ (Durden, 2014: 370).

It is worth looking at how the idea of things and only things as a suitable subject for visual art evolved over time. The practice:

dates back to antiquity, and since them the genre has struggles under the weight of its insignificance. Painting a pear or a dish was never as important as painting a person. The still life has always been lowest on the rung of art’s hierarchy. The depicted subject was crucial in determining the significance of the work. Nevertheless, things have always played a role in art, and the problem at hand is to sort out the differences. A Byzantine icon may contain an object, but the depicted thing was not meant to look real. It was filled with the magic of otherness – the rendering of the sacred was itself sacred. And even with the growing humanism of the Renaissance, things in paintings carried symbolic and mythical value. It is the Dutch who are credited with the rise of still life, who moved the detail of the canvas to its center and made it a full-fledged genre, but even then, no matter how mimetic the images, ethical and religious ideas inhabited the objects seen in painting. The very marginality of still life would make it attractive to modern artists and give it a subversive edge. … And yet the rise of the humble object as a suitable subject for painting cannot be separated from the sense that the ordinary might hold a viewer’s interest – that a simple thing could be charged with power. It is true that without the striving, growing merchant class and its accumulation of material wealth in seventeenth-century Holland, the sparkling glasses, dishes, pipes, fruits, meats, and animal carcasses could not have been elevated to the status of a painting’s sole subject. The still life embodies a new emphasis on the significance of the everyday. And this vision of the pedestrian as something interesting, as something worthy of interest, has never left the genre (Hustvedt, 2005: 44).

Although Hustvedt above is concerned only with painting it shows that the everyday (‘the sparkling glasses, dishes, pipes, fruits, meats …’) as subject for photography practitioners has long and distinguished antecedents. Although there was something of the sacred, symbolic and mythical about the objects imaged prior to the exploration of the everyday by Dutch artists in the early 1600s (above), these attributes are not lost in modern photographic practice. For example in Anna Fox’s ‘My Mother’s Cupboards and My Father’s Words’ (Fox, 2000):

meticulous photographs of objects on shelves speak about a bourgeois order and polite front, a façade that is rudely shattered by transcriptions of the abusive language directed at the women in the household by Fox’s father as he succumbs to illness. The text recording his words is presented in an elegant calligraphy [see fig. 2.]… (Durdan, 2014: 372).

The text displayed alongside the images includes for example: ‘She’s rattling again. Can you stop your bloody fucking rattling’ – here the invitation is to consider opposites: the profane language making sacred the stalwart order of the cupboards (see fig. 2.).

Roland Barthes (b. 1915) is noted for his observations on photography in ‘Camera Lucida’ (Barthes, 1980), and his book ‘Mythologies’ (Barthes, 1957) is relevant to a discussion of the everyday in art:

… the real pleasure and interest in the book [‘Mythologies’] lies in its far from scientific readings of all kinds of cultural phenomena, from striptease to children’s toys, from ‘The Face of Garbo’ to ‘The Brian of Einstein’. These short pieces …set out to expose what was at stake in the representation of the everyday (Besley, 2002: 24).

What is ‘at stake’ (above) is the realisation that what we take for granted — the ordinary — says as much about us, and the society we live in, as does any objective, thoughtful analysis or description. This point is made about photographer Richard Wentworth’s (b. 1947) work:

The goods on Wentworth’s streets – whether bad or ugly, on display or discarded (displayed, in fact, even when discarded) – are like prophecies in reverse, a part-work story of manufacture, consumption, breakdown and obsolescence. A pile of household cast-offs is a discarded – and until Wentworth came along, disregarded – history of British manufacturing (Dyer, 2008: 214 – 217).

Stephen Johnstone makes the more general point that:

when artists and curators allude to the everyday it is almost always to suggest that what is at stake in such a gesture is the extent to which an artist is able to get closer to things, to be immersed in the world, as opposed to observing and judging from afar (Johnstone, 2008: 13).

That ‘contemporary art is saturated with references to the everyday’ (Johnstone, 2008: 12) is reflected in Chapter 4 (‘Something for Nothing’) of Charlotte Cotton’s ‘The Photograph as Contemporary Art’:

The photographs in this chapter show how non-human things, often quite ordinary, everyday objects, can be made extraordinary by being photographed. As the title suggests, the stuff of daily life ostensibly counts as the subject, the ‘something’ of the pictures. But because we may ordinarily pass these objects by, or keep them as the periphery of our vision, we may not automatically give them credence as visual subjects within art’s lexicon (Cotton, 2014: 115).

Paula Zuccotti’s book of photographs and interviews is based on the idea that the objects around us can tell an insightful story. Entitled ‘Every Thing We Touch. A 24-Hour Inventory of Our Lives’ (Zuccotti, 2015; see fig. 3.) the author wondered if all the objects touched by an individual over 24 hours were gathered into one place, would they tell a bigger story?:

Driven by this idea, Paula Zuccotti travelled around the world to find people from an incredible array of ages, cultures, professions and backgrounds. She asked them to document every object they touched in 24 hours. Then she gathered those objects together and photographed them in a single shot. From a toddler in Tokyo to a cowboy in Arizona, from a cleaner in London to a cloister nun in Madrid, Every Thing We Touch is their story told through the objects they own, consume, need, choose, treasure and can’t let go. Each image is mystery, a story, a work of art. Each is a moment in time: a life and a world reflected back at us (Penguin books, s.d).

Figure 1. (click to enlarge)

Figure 2. (click to enlarge)

Figure 3. (click to enlarge)


Arnatt, K., 2013. Notes from Jo 1991- 95 [online] Available at: [Accessed 07 01 2018]

Barthes, R., 1980. Camera Lucida. London: Flamingo

Barthes, R., 1957. Mythologies. London: Vintage Books

Belsey, C., 2002. Poststructuralism. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Cotton, C., 2014. The Photograph as Contemporary Art. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson.

Dyer, G., 2008. ‘Les mots et les choses: Eugene Atget and Richard Wentworth’ In: Johnstone (ed) The Everyday. Documents in Contemporary Art. London: Whitechapel Gallery/MIT Press pp. 214 – 217

Durden, M., 2014. Photography Today. New York: Phaidon

Fox, A., 2000. My Mother’s Cupboards and My Father’s Words. London: Shoreditch Biennale

Hustvedt, S., 2005. Mysteries of the Rectangle. Essays on Painting. New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Johnstone, S., 2008. The Everyday. Documents of Contemporary Art. London: Whitechapel Gallery/ MIT Press

Lowry, Joanna (2009) ‘An Imagined Place’ in Theatres of the Real pp. 81-95

Penguin Books (s.d) Every Thing We Touch. A 24-Hour Inventory of Our Lives. [online] Available at: [Accessed 08 01 2018]

Zuccotti, P., 2015. Every Thing We Touch. A 24-Hour Inventory of Our Lives. London: Viking


Shafran, N., 2000. 4 January, 2000 Three bean soup, cauliflower vegetable cheese [online] Available at: [Accessed 07 01 2018]

Fox, A., 2000. from: My Mother’s Cupboards and My Father’s Words. [online] Available at: [Accessed 08 01 2018]

Zuccotti, P., 2015. from: Every Thing We Touch. A 24-Hour Inventory of Our Lives. [online] Available at: [Accessed 08 01 2018]